Science, tech center a mecca for expatriates
DAEJEON - Pham Ducduong, 37, is one of 451 multinational researchers stationed at Daedeok Innopolis, Korea’s science and technology hub, in Daejeon, a two-hour-drive south of Seoul.
A Vietnamese national with a medical practice in his country now lives in Korea with his wife and 5-year-old son.
Ducduong came to Korea four years ago to study oriental medicine at the Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine, located in Daejeon’s special-purpose cluster, which was designed and launched by former president Park Chung Hee in 1973.
“I have no difficulty adapting to the lifestyle here with my family,” said the 37-year-old researcher under a postdoctoral program at the institute.
“My son arrived here when he was a 1-year-old and is now fluent in Korean.”
His wife, also Vietnamese, is studying for her master’s degree in apparel design at Pai Chai University in Daejeon.
“I am returning to Vietnam early next year and am hoping to gain as much experience here as I can until then.”
The Daedeok Innopolis has become a mecca of non-Korean speaking, highly educated workers, attracting a large number of multiethnic professionals with dozens of research centers making up the science cluster.
A total of 1,266 firms and research institutes are located in the state-designed zone, employing 55,614 researchers and skilled workers.
Foreign researchers account for 451 of the total number, making the cluster-zone the nation’s top place in terms of the number of non-Korean speaking researchers.
Nationalities of the 451 vary widely. Some are from the U.S., Japan, China and India, while some have come here seeking learning opportunities in science from Africa and Europe.
A majority of them stay in the country for around five years.
Nearby Kaist and Chungnam National University also host about 1,000 foreign researchers, who receive salaries equivalent to those of their Korean counterparts.
Daejeon’s Yuseong County, where the cluster is located, promotes itself as Korea’s Silicon Valley, and has designated a 31,200-square-meter (7.7-acre) area as an International Zone adjacent to Kaist as part of its efforts to lure more foreign professionals.
The International Zone aims to offer foreign nationals opportunities to enjoy entertainment and culture, somewhat similar to Seoul’s Itaewon area.
When the JoongAng Ilbo visited the zone on July 14, shop signs in English and Japanese were on display, some even touting a “10-30 percent discount for expats.”
“The area gets crowded with expats shopping here,” said an owner of a restaurant in the district.
“As international visitors here are highly educated with high-tech professions, sales for shops here tend to be greatly affected by them,” said the owner. In addition to Korean restaurants, multinational food chains like Vietnamese pho restaurants flourish in the market.
“I often come here when I feel nostalgic and miss home,” said a Japanese student whom the JoongAng Ilbo met in the International Zone.
“When I first came here, facilities for expats were scarce, making adjustment to life here rather difficult,” said Mik Fanguy, a visiting professor from the United States at the Kaist Language Center, who came to Korea 11 years ago.
“Now, with many facilities designed for foreigners in place, living here has become much more adjustable.”
By Shin Jin-ho [firstname.lastname@example.org]